Attorney Tom Girardi pleads not guilty to defrauding Lion Air crash victims

ByAaron Katersky ABCNews logo
Friday, March 3, 2023

An attorney entered a not guilty plea Friday on behalf of onetime powerhouse lawyer Tom Girardi who is charged with defrauding victims of the 2018 Lion Air crash, even as his court-appointed attorney questioned whether Girardi has the capacity to be prosecuted.

Girardi appeared via videoconference in a light grey sport jacket before a federal judge in Chicago, where he and two codefendants are charged with diverting millions of dollars meant for victim families into an account his firm controlled.

Girardi did not speak, other than to consent to proceed by videoconference. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cummings appointed a federal defender, Seema Ahmad, who said Girardi suffers from "health issues" that prevented him from understanding the court proceeding. She later said Girardi has Alzheimer's.

"Mr. Thomas Girardi would not be in a position to make any representations to court that could be relied upon given his health conditions," Ahmad said.

She said the defense intends to file a motion to initiate proceedings to determine whether Girardi is competent to stand trial.

Girardi's brother and conservator, Dr. Robert Girardi, said Thomas Girardi receives $3,000 per month in Social Security and has no other income. Girardi was released on a $250,000 bond into his brother's custody.

The judge noted Girardi is "involved in divorce proceedings" from his estranged wife, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills cast member Erika Jayne.

"I don't know if that has proceeded or not," Robert Girardi said when asked by the judge whether the divorce has been finalized.

Girardi has been charged with eight counts of wire fraud, which each carry a 20-year maximum prison sentence, along with four counts of criminal contempt, assistant United States Attorney Corey Rubenstein said.

In 2018, Lion Air 610 crashed in the Java Sea shortly after takeoff from Jakarta, killing all 189 people on board. Girardi and his firm represented five victimized families in lawsuits against Boeing.

According to the indictment, Girardi allegedly used the settlement money to meet payroll, pay off his American Express card and fund settlements to clients in other cases whose money he had previously misappropriated.

Girardi is charged in a separate indictment in Los Angeles federal court with defrauding other clients of his now-defunct firm, Girardi Keese.

His next court date is March 14.

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